Creston Brewery - Grand Rapids, Michigan - Grand Rapids Breweries
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From Small Breweries to Big Business: How Craft Beer is Stimulating the Midwest Economy

With tens of thousands of jobs and more than $20 billion in economic activity, there’s little doubt that craft beer equals big business in the Midwest. In Michigan alone, the thriving brewing industry conservatively contributes more than $144 million in wages with a total economic contribution of more than $600 million.

From Bell’s Brewery’s Two-Hearted IPA and Oberon Ale (a personal favorite of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer) in Grand Rapids, Michigan to Three Floyd’s Pear Bear in Munster, Indiana to Central Waters Brewing Company’s Black Gold in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Midwest’s many craft beer selections are well-known to beer enthusiasts.

From big cities to small, rural towns, it’s hard to find a destination that doesn’t have a craft brewery. There are more than 400 in Michigan (with over 30 in the Upper Peninsula), nearly 200 in Indiana, more than 100 in Iowa, and more than 200 each in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Nationwide, craft breweries are a hit too. The Brewers Association estimates that in 2022, the craft brewing industry contributed more than $70 billion to the US economy and supported more than 400,000 jobs.

“With a strong presence across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, even in a challenging year craft breweries are a powerful economic force at the local, state, and national level,” Bert Watson, Brewers Association Chief Economist, said. “As consumers continue to demand a wide range of high-quality, full-flavored beers, small and independent craft brewers are meeting this growing demand with innovative offerings, creating high levels of economic value in the process.”

Creston Brewery - Grand Rapids, Michigan - Grand Rapids Breweries
Creston Brewery | photo via @billander

The Home of Beer City USA

Once upon a time, Michigan was considered anything but a craft beer mecca. The state had just three craft breweries in 1993, including Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo.

In terms of overall number breweries, microbreweries, and brewpubs, Michigan ranks #6 in the nation – thus supporting its claim as “The Great Beer State.” Today that number has ballooned to more than 407 and counting, and the Great Lakes State is home to a place affectionately known as “Beer City USA.”

Grand Rapids — home to over 40 craft breweries — put Michigan and the Midwest on the craft beer map when it was named Beer City USA in 2012. It earned the honor again in 2013, 2016, 2017, and 2022.

“The craft beer industry has been a catalyst for growth in Grand Rapids, and we are proud to be known as Beer City, USA,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss told MLive in 2019. “Our breweries are not only creating great beer, but they are also creating jobs and contributing to the vibrancy of our city.”

The nation has taken notice of Michigan’s craft brewery prowess too. Michigan was recently named the top state for beer lovers by BetMissouri.com. BrewersAssociation.org ranked Michigan 11th in quality, 13th in quantity, and 6th in affordability for a nation-leading average of 10 in its 2022 rankings.

The same list ranks Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa in the top 10.

Honoring Michigan’s Craft Beverage Prowess

As renowned as it is for its beer, Michigan is also among the nation’s leaders in craft beverage production, including wine and hard cider. 

Gov. Whitmer recently proclaimed November 2023 as Michigan Craft Beverage Month, recognizing an award-winning industry that includes 85 small distillers, 90 hard cider producers, 195 wineries, and several hundred breweries in Mitten State.

A proclamation issued by Whitmer cited Michigan as ranking seventh in the nation for craft distilleries, ninth in the nation in wine production, and as a consistent producer of hard cider.

According to the Michigan Craft Beverage Council, Michigan ranks third in the nation in apple production and produces more than 600,000 thousand gallons of cider per year.

Added all up, the industry as a whole drives community engagement, serves as a boon for Michigan tourism, and greatly benefits state agriculture.

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A Rise in Beer Tourism

There are many reasons to visit Midwestern states, and beer tourism has been one of the biggest drivers of economic growth. It means when people think about craft beer and the best locations, they think of the Midwest.

Craft beer tourism is what it sounds like — tourism centered around visiting breweries, beer festivals, or other related activities that allow craft beer enthusiasts to sample craft brews and experience aspects of the process, including facility tours and city brewery tours.

A study commissioned by Experience Grand Rapids found that 25% of beer tourists — tourists who indicated craft beer was the primary reason for their visit and who are either living in or visiting West Michigan for at least one night — came from outside the state.

Craft brewery tourism’s rise throughout the Midwest has also given rise to craft beer trails, where visitors can visit dozens of participating craft breweries, get a passport from participating locations, and collect stamps as they visit different spots.

Some of the most popular Midwest beer trails include:

  • The Northern Indiana Beer Trail
  • Quad Cities Ale Trail
  • The Beloit (Wisconsin) Beer Trail
  • The Southern Minnesota and North Shore beer trails
  • Southern Illinois Beer Trail
  • The Grand Rapids Beer City Ale Trail
  • The Illinois Ale Trail

The Midwest’s vast selection of craft beers is enjoyed by casual craft beer drinkers and craft brew enthusiasts for their uniqueness, variety, and drinkability.

But the breweries are about much more than the beer. Breweries, from the biggest to the smallest, are all individualistic and distinct in their approach. They are passionate about creating great-tasting, authentic beers that reflect their values and the local culture.

Craft breweries throughout the Midwest are routinely part of their local communities. They donate to local charities and organizations, participate in community events, and create seasonal flavors and events that keep consumer interest high.

A Boon to Local Economies

Popping the top on a cold craft beer also has a wide-ranging economic impact on local economies, too.

Data from the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association shows that the beer industry contributes $9.9 billion to Michigan’s economy and nearly 67,000 jobs.

In Michigan, beer industry jobs include brewing, distributing, agriculture, retail, and manufacturing, amounting to $3 billion in total wages, according to the Beer Institute and the NBWA.

“You really are supporting a local economy every time you purchase something from a small Michigan brewery,” Trey Malone, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University, told Lansing’s WKAR. “And that’s not necessarily the case in the places like Oklahoma where when you buy your beer there, and as soon as the beer is purchased, the dollars kind of circulate outside of the state. Michigan doesn’t have to be that way.”

The results are similar in other Midwestern states. Wisconsin’s craft beer industry contributes about $9 billion to the state economy, impacting more than 62,000 jobs. The industry contributes about $1 billion to the state’s economies of Minnesota and Iowa.

In Illinois, craft breweries contribute about $3 billion to the economy and employ as many as 20,000 people. The same is true in Indiana, where more than 10,000 people are employed in the industry, and the industry generates more than $1.5 billion.

Visit a Midwest Craft Brewery Today

With dozens of locations and a wide spectrum of flavors, there’s never been a better time to visit a Midwest craft brewery. There are options to satisfy every taste bud, and a brewery is the perfect place to find local culture.

Not only can one soak up culture at a Midwest brewery, but doing so can help make an economic impact. Visiting a local brewery in the Midwest keeps money in the local economy and distributes it to all those who have a hand in turning barley, yeast, and hops into delicious, refreshing craft beer.